Alpamayo Circuit

This is my third post on my Alpamayo Circuit trek. Check out the first two here:

This post provides track notes for trek, whoch combines the Alpamayo Basecamp Trek (90km) with the shorter and more popular Santa Cruz trek (50km).

I added three side trips to the basic Circuit: Nevado Santa Cruz Chico (above the northern Alpamayo basecamp), Laguna Safuna Baja, and Laguna Arhueycocha (above the southern Alpamayo basecamp). According to my calculations, the side trips pushed the trip to just a bit over 100 miles. I completed the trek in 7 days. A typical agency trip would extend the trek to 12-14 days.

Nevados Santa Cruz Norte, Santa Cruz Chico, Santa Cruz, and Abasraju from Cara Cara Pass

Day 1-2

I combined these two days because the hike begins with a massive climb out of Cashapampa. Starting at 2,800 meters, the hike climbs about 300m gradually over 9km to reach Hualcayan Pampa. There are some interesting pre-Inca remains at Hualcayan.

From Hualcayan, the true test begins as the trail climbs “relentlessly” to 4,800 meters at Punta Osoruri above Laguna Cullicocha. This section got entertaining the few times I ended up chasing cow trails around the mountainside. I was rewarded late in the day, though, with amazing views as the sun set on the opposite side of the valley.

Having hit the trail late, I climbed the entire section from Cashapampa (2,800m) to Osoruri (4,800m) between 1pm on Day 1 and noon the next day. A nice little challenge to start to the trek (especially because I was carrying food for a full 7 days at that point) and I was a bit worn  by the middle of that second day. From Osoruri, the trail drops steeply for a short stretch (1-2 miles) before climbing again into Vientunan.

Vientunan marks the beginning of the first significant downhill as the trail drops steeply to Ruina Pampa at around 4,250m. From there, Day 2 gets long as the trail pushes up Quebrada Alpamayo toward camp in the pampa below Laguna Jancarurish. This campsite is marked on the Skyline map but not on the Alpenvereinskarten map. For those with the Alpenvereinskarten version, the campsite is in the flat area immediately across the valley from the trail heading north toward Cara Cara Pass.

Yanacon Pass

Day 3

I started the day with a quick day trip south to the northern Alpamayo basecamp. If you’re continuing past the basecamp to the small laguna below Nevado Santa Cruz Chico, ignore the cairns on the ridge immediately south of the campsite. I spent a good half hour scrambling up the steep ridge following the cairns before realizing that the trail circles west around the ridge and across the river to head up toward the laguna. My guess is the cairns mark the ascent to the Climbers Camp that is further up Alpamayo.

After finishing the side trip, return to the valley where the campsite was and cross the river at the bridge to begin the climb over Cara Cara Pass (4,830m). The trail up Cara Cara is fairly steep in places but provides amazing views back across Quebrada Alpamayo. On the other side of the pass, the trail begins a long slow descent toward the pampa. There is plenty of free camping at the bottom of the valley before you reach Mesapata.

Atop Punta Union

Day 4

A short morning climb up to Mesapata (4,460m) leaves you with a steep descent into Quebrada Tayapampa. Here, the trail is overrun by cow and horse trails, so just get down to the valley floor however you can. This leads to the second side trip, which can include a quick out and back to the easterly Lagunas Safuna Baja and Alta or a longer hike to the westerly Laguna Pucacocha. If you head toward Pucacocha, push through the landslide that has taken out a several hundred meter section of the trail at around 4,500m.

Back on the main trail, head down valley toward the river crossing at Huillca, which consists which is little more than a couple of stone huts and a herd of alpacas. After crossing the valley floor (4,000m), stay low and close to the river as you ascend through Quebrada Yanta Quena to Punta Yanacon (4,610m).

Over the pass, the trail drops through Quebrada Yanjajanca, which is one of the most beautiful valleys I’ve ever seen. It took me hours to get down as I wandered around taking pictures and just generally enjoying this amazing place. I was also treated to the only condor sighting of my Alpamayo hike. I camped over the ridge to the west of Laguna Sactaycocha.

Sunset behind Nevado Pucaraju

Day 5

The morning begins with a gradual descent into Jancapampa. Disregard the bridge marked on the map when you reach the valley floor. There is no bridge. Just follow the trail toward the river and wade across immediately east of the small ridge. Head due south across the pampa to the far side of the valley and then turn east toward Pishgopampa (3,600m).

I got utterly lost in Pishgopampa and have no idea where the trail begins its ascent out of the valley north toward Punta Tupatupa (4,360m). Following the directions of the locals (who apparently think every trail leads to Tupatupa. They may not be wrong, but some are certainly easier than others), I bushwhacked straight up hill via long unused trails before finally breaking through to the main trail around the 4,000m mark. Over Tupatupa, which offers exceptional views of the Nevados Pucajirca, the trail makes a long descent through Quebrada Tuctubamba before heading west toward the beautiful Laguna Heucrucocha.

To shave some meters off the next day’s climb, I continued past Laguna Heucrococha to camp somewhere below Alto de Pucuraju. This was another section where I lost the trail and it resulted in the most remote campsite of my trip. With dark falling quickly, I found a narrow break in the trees on the side a hill and had a somewhat comfortable night sleep.

Nevado Talhraju (and the wide Inca road that leads over Punta Union)

Day 6

A long Day 6 begins with the ascent of Alto de Pucuraju (4,640m) to meet the stunning views of Punta Union and Nevado Taulhraju, Nevados Pucajirca, and Nevado Rinrijirca. Amazingly, the pass is populated with cows nearly all the way to the crest. After the pass, the trail drops steeply before heading straight across the valley to climb switchbacks that intersect with the Santa Cruz trek as it heads northwest.

The trail then ascends to Punta Union (4,760m), the last pass on the Circuit. It’s all downhill from there. Drop west through the valley toward Quishuar and the last of the three side trips, the southern Alpamayo basecamp. This one is definitely worth the extra miles and offers spectacular views of Nevado Alpamayo outbound and of Nevado Artesonraju on the return, especially in the evening. You’ll even get the chance to chat with some mountaineers as the variously recover and prepare for their Alpamayo summits. One unfortunate guy I talked with suffered a bad case of snow blindness and was sporting some serious shades even at dusk. Camp at Quishar for the night.

Waterfall below Nevado Pucaraju

Day 7

The last day of the hike leaves a manageable 12 miles (20km) that includes a descent from Quishar (4,000m) to Cashapampa at 2,800 meters. The majority of the descent occurs in the last 5km. I knocked this out early so I’d be sure to catch a collectivo in Cashapampa. I was off the trail at 12:30 and, after grabbing some quick refreshments at the trailhead, was on my way to Caraz less than 10 minutes later.

Quebrada Santa Cruz above Laguna Jatuncocha

All in all, it was an amazing hike. It was physically demanding with some challenging stretches of trail, but had amazing views throughout and offered the chance to explore some of the most beautiful high-altitude scenery I’ve ever seen.

Best of luck to any future Alpamayo trekkers out there. You’re in for a great trip.


If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Hike The World: The Guide to the Planet’s Best Trails, my guide book to the best multi-day trails in the world. Explore thirty incredible hikes, five on each continent, that will take you to the most beautiful, iconic and remote places on the planet. Find all the information you need to start your own amazing adventure!

Time for the John Muir Trail!
So You Want to Hike the Alpamayo Circuit?